Q&A: Costa-Gavras

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Greek-born Costa-Gavras presided over the Berlinale jury as president last year. This year, the Oscar-winning writer, director and producer is back with the festival's closing night film, "Eden Is West," the tale of a contemporary immigrant's search for paradise in Europe. Produced by Costa-Gavras' KG Prods. and sold by Pathe International, the film stars up-and-coming Italian actor Riccardo Scamarcio. Several of Costa-Gavras' previous films have competed here, most recently his Cesar-winning Holocaust drama "Amen" in 2002. He won the Golden Bear in 1990 for the thriller "Music Box." Costa-Gavras talked to the Hollywood Reporter's Charles Masters about his latest work and his jury's controversial choice of awards for the 2008 edition.

The Hollywood Reporter: What is your film "Eden Is West" about?

Costa-Gavras: It's the odyssey of a young man who crosses the Mediterranean Sea and then crosses Europe with the aim of arriving at Paris. His journey starts in the middle of the Med, you never find out where he's from, or his nationality. That was the idea. It's a way of talking about ourselves through him, and how we welcome people like that. He goes through several adventures, and the idea is that each of these episodes is a reflection, or a metaphor for our behavior toward people who come from the outside, who consider Europe a paradise and who will do anything to reach it, including risking their lives.

THR: What style do you use to tell this story?

Costa-Gavras: There is tragedy in the story, but there's a deliberate mood of lightness because I think we have excessively blackened the problem of immigrants. I think in Europe we see immigrants as an enemy. There's a fear of being invaded, a fear of other religions that may come in, other colors. And this, sadly, has been fanned by certain politicians presenting immigrants as a danger. But we know that in Europe there have been extraordinary movements of immigration. A large part of the population of most European countries is made up of people who immigrated -- either way back or more recently -- and who adapted to their new country. So I wanted to view my main character from this perspective, and see him with optimism.

THR: You speak of odysseys and tragedy in a tale beginning in the Mediterranean -- is there a Greek element to the story?

Costa-Gavras: Homer's Ulysses is a little like my wanderer, except that Ulysses wanted to return to his home. Mine wants to create a home, and he thinks Paris, the City of Light, is the best place to do that.

THR: Where was the film shot and how was it financed?

Costa-Gavras: We shot some sequences in Greece, some on the Italian border, some in Alsace on the French-German border, and then in Paris, which is where the story concludes. The budget was around €7 million ($9.1 million), and the film is a French/Italian/ Greek co-production, with the participation of France 3 and Canal Plus. It was difficult to put the budget together, especially because television channels were cool on it since there are no major stars.

THR: What do you set out to say with the film?

Costa-Gavras: It's a film about how we as Europeans live in supposed "paradise" in the West, and how we view and how we receive people from the outside. Above all, I wanted to show the nobility of the immigrant.

THR: What did you make of the reaction to the choices of the Berlin jury you headed last year, notably giving the Golden Bear to Jose Padilha's "The Elite Squad," given that some critics felt the film was a kind of apology for police brutality?

Costa-Gavras: I think that the critics judged more the aesthetics than the content. As for an apology, on the contrary, for me, it was very strong attack on the decision of the state to use the police to find solutions, and to give them free rein to mete out the law. It was the same thing in the documentary on Guantanamo (Errol Morris' "Standard Operating Procedure," which won the Jury Grand Prize here). What I liked a lot in (Padilha's) film is that you clearly saw the democratic power in Brazil leave repression to be done by the police without taking into account the country's laws.

And in Morris' film, the American democracy decided to leave it to the military to do the work of repression without any controls and without respecting the fundamental laws of the country. In both cases, that was the most interesting thing in each of the films. And that is unacceptable. I and all the others on the jury saw this very quickly. But you know, what does it mean to be on a jury? There's the audience that goes to see a film and has a certain perception, and there are the critics and journalists, who have a certain perception. We, as jury members and therefore professionals, we're between the two. We have to make our own decisions and choose according to our own personal criteria without taking into account either the critics or the audience. And that's what we did.
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